Bullying has become a front-burner issue for school systems.
As technology such as smartphones and social media like Facebook and Twitter are tools used in bullying, something know as cyberbullying, schools are trying to find the balance between being proactive and stepping outside of their authority.
Earlier this year, Ohio lawmakers passed the Jessica Logan Law, which requires districts to set anti-bullying policies that include cyberbullying, and also gives districts more leeway in dealing with cyberbullying incidents outside the school day.
Westlake City Schools are refining their own anti-bullying rules. Last week, the Board of Education passed new policies so the school district would be in line with the Jessica Logan Law. The new law also requires districts to update their anti-bullying policies by the end of November.
The change with the potentially biggest impact is that the anti-bullying policy will more broadly cover bullying behavior that takes place off school grounds.
"It used to be difficult to discipline when things were taking place outside the school day," said superintendent Dan Keenan. "It was tougher to prove a connection."
Now, outside bullying and cyberbullying can be a disciplinary issue if it has an impact in school. And it only takes a single incident for teachers and administrators to take action, where before multiple incidents were needed.
"If what's done is flagrant and clear, once is enough," Keenan said.
What constitutes cyberbullying in Westlake's anti-bullying policy? Examples would be abusive or threatening comments on social media, blogs, emails or text messages; using phone cameras to take embarrasing photos or videos, and/or sharing them; and using social media or other sites to spread rumors.
Bullying also includes hazing and dating-related violence and intimidation.
There are limits, Keenan said. A single incident isn't enough to warrant action, it has to carry over with some effect in school, such as students using the cyberbullying to taunt or harass the victim during school or in school activities.
"We're dealing with kids," Keenan said. "Sometimes, it's clear and other times, it's going to be more of a judgment call. But the deciding factor is, is it having an impact on life in the schools."
Social media is also a tool in the fight against bullying.
"Social media is something that allows us to document bullying incidents," Keenan said. "We have a screen capture, a printout, something concrete."
While some cases may be settled without punishment, students who violate the anti-bullying policy do face in-school and out-of-school suspension. If past attempts at intervention or discipline aren't succesful in getting the bullying to stop, a student could face an expulsion hearing. Also, any behavior that could be considered criminal is reported to police.
Discipline is only part of the solution, Keenan said. Ultimately, the goal is to provide guidance against bullying and create a safe place for everyone.
"We have to create an environment that inspires respect for each other," Keenan said.
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